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Transcript of Virtual Weekly Media Briefing by the Official Spokesperson (February 25, 2021)

February 26, 2021

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Friends, Good evening and Namaskar. Welcome to this weekly briefing. Sorry for the slight delay in starting. I don't have any announcements today. So we'll move straight to your questions. Pratik, could you please take over.

Shri Pratik, US (DD): Yes Sir. The first question is from Rajini Vaidyanathan from BBC asks, "Do you have any comment from the Indian side on the Rohingya refugees who are stranded in a boat off the coast? Have they been given Indian Navy assistance as is reported and will the authorities rescue to the land?”

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Rajini, I have an update on this. From the information that I've got, on the 11th of February 2021 a boat sailed from Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh carrying 64 women including 8 young girls and 26 men including five young boys. The engine of the boat failed on February 15th and since then it has been drifting. Due to the severe conditions, we understand that eight occupants have died and one of the occupants has been missing since the 15th of February. When we learnt of this boat in distress, we immediately dispatched two Coast Guard ships to provide food, water and medical assistance to the occupants. Seven of them were also administered I.V. fluids. We understand that around 47 of the occupants of the boat are in possession of ID cards issued to them by the UNHCR in Bangladesh stating that they are displaced Myanmar Nationals and persons of concern registered by UNHCR. We are in discussions with the Government of Bangladesh to ensure their safe and secure repatriation. This is the update that I have on this situation.

Shri Pratik, US (DD): Sir, next question. Sandeep from Tribune asks, "Could you please give us a sense of deliverables after Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla's Moscow visit?”

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Sandeep, you would have already seen the press release. It was a fairly detailed press release and we put out various things during the visit of Foreign Secretary. It was an important visit and it can be gauged from the fact that this was the first visit abroad of Foreign Secretary this year, which of course reaffirms the importance that India attaches to the special and privileged strategic partnership that we have with Russia. Now, you would have also seen that we have sustained the momentum of bilateral relationship even during the Covid times. There were four telephonic conversations between PM and President Putin in 2020. Foreign Secretary's visit was preceded by India-Russia consultations on UNSC issues and on policy planning. This was at the level of Joint Secretaries and DGs on the 15th of February. Earlier Secretary (West) Shri Vikas Swarup had visited Moscow for consultations with the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Vershinin on UNSC issues. This was the backdrop to the visit. During the visit, FS called on the Russian Foreign Minister, H.E. Mr. Lavrov and handed over an invitation from EAM to visit India at a mutually convenient date. The invitation has been accepted. Foreign Secretary also had Foreign Office Consultations with his counterpart, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister H.E. Mr. Morgulov on the 17th of February and during these consultations they reviewed important aspects of bilateral relations, exchanged views on regional and international issues. There was also a detailed discussion on the roadmap of high-level exchanges in 2021, and a large number of them have been planned for this year. A roadmap was discussed, and was agreed upon which includes the Annual Bilateral Summit. Further what I can tell you in terms of outcomes, there were discussions on the cooperation in the fight against Covid-19 particularly in the context of vaccines. The Russian side also expressed keen interest in investment under our Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative and they also are looking for cooperation in New and Emerging High Technologies, in defence, in inland waterways, in railways, in steel. These are some of the sectors. In terms of our development cooperation projects, the need for early operationalization of the USD 1 billion line of credit for the Russian Far East was discussed. In terms of bilateral trade, both sides agreed on the need to realize the full potential of bilateral trade and to operationalize the FTA and the Bilateral Investment Treaty at an early date. There was also interest from the Russian private sector for participation in the International Solar Alliance. During his visit, FS's other engagements included the inauguration of the Digital Online Library in the Indian Embassy in Moscow, which would make available 4400 books on India in the digital and online format. Overall, this visit helped strengthen the close strategic special and privileged partnership that India and Russia share. It also set the tone for high-level visits during the year. These were the key outcomes of the visit.

Shri Pratik, US (DD): Sir, next question. Aditya from CNN News 18 asks, "Indian diaspora in Canada has spoken to CNN News 18 about threats received by Khalistani groups after they launched Tiranga rally and supported Indian Farm laws. Has India taken up the matter with Canada?”

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Aditya, we have come across these reports of threats and intimidation to some members of the Indian Community in Canada. These threats have come from certain fringe elements in Canada. And we have taken this up with the Canadian authorities both in Ottawa and in Delhi. We've requested them to take steps to ensure the safety of Indian citizens in Canada. We advise Indian nationals to report any such incidents to the local Canadian police and also bring it to the immediate attention of our High Commission in Ottawa as well as to our Consulates there. I would also say that we have taken up with the Canadian authorities the issues concerning the security and safety of our missions and consulates and our Diplomatic Personnel in Canada.

Shri Pratik, US (DD): Sir, next set of questions. Aditya from CNN News 18 asks, "India and China had announced disengagement and moving back of troops after several months long standoff. What is the present situation along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh? Shrinjoy from Times now asks, "Is a WMCC on the cards? Shailendra from News 18 asks, "Cheen ke saath disengagement ka process kab tak pura hoga? Aakhiri baithak mein baaki friction points par koi sehmati bani?
(Questioned in Hindi; App. translation) When will the process of disengagement with China be completed? In the last meeting, was there any consensus on the remaining friction point? Shashidhar asks, "Cheen ki sena pangong mein Bhartiye kshetra mein piche haath kar LAC par gayi hai jaabki Bhartiye sena aapne hi kshetra ko chhodh kar piche haathi hai. Buffer zone Bhartiye kshetra mein bann raha hai, kya yah sahi hai? Gogra, Depsaang mein kya hoga? (Questioned in Hindi; App. translation) The Chinese army has moved back from the Indian area to the LAC, while the Indian Army has moved back from its own area. Buffer zone is being created in Indian region, is this correct? What will happen in Gogra, Depsang? Similar question from Akhilesh Suman from Rajya Sabha TV and Naynima Basu from Print.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: To respond to your questions, you would have seen that the 10th round of the senior commanders meeting was held on the 20th of February this year and as agreed earlier by the two sides this 10th meeting was convened within 48 hours of the completion of the disengagement in the North and South banks of the Pangong Lake. You would have also seen the Joint Press Release issued after this latest round of the Senior Commanders Meeting, wherein it has been stated that there was a candid and in-depth exchange of views on the remaining issues along the LAC in the western sector and both sides view the smooth and successful completion of disengagement in the North and South Bank as a significant first step as this forms a basis for resolution of remaining issues so as to achieve the eventual goal of complete disengagement and all friction areas. The two sides have agreed to work towards a mutually acceptable resolution of the remaining issues. Coming specifically to your question Shashidhar, as regards the disengagement in the Pangong Lake area, the factual position was very well conveyed by Hon’ble Raksha Mantri in Parliament in statements which he made there and subsequently you would have also seen that Ministry of Defence has issued another statement on the 12th of February clarifying and setting the record straight in terms of certain misleading and misinformed comments which appeared in the media. As stated by Honorable Raksha Mantri in Parliament, India has not conceded any territory as a result of this agreement. On the contrary, it has enforced observance and respect for LAC and it has prevented any unilateral change in the status quo. I would therefore urge that the mutual redeployment as a result of this agreement should not be misrepresented. And there is absolutely no change with respect to our position on the Line of Actual control. Shrinjoy, on your question, whenever a date is fixed, we will inform you. Your question I think was with regard to WMCC. Whenever there is any further information we will keep you updated.

Shri Pratik, US (DD): Sir, next set of questions. Pankaj Pandey from Hindustan asks, "Bharat-Pakistaan ke beech DGMO sthar kee vaarta mein sangharsh viraam par sahamati banee hai. Kya isse ab raajaneetik sthar par vaarta ka raasta khulega? Kya Bharat Pakistaan ke saath samagr vaarta ki taiyaaree kar raha hai ya phir Bharat apne rukh per kayam hai ki aatankvad or vaarta sath sath nai ho sakta. Pakistan ko Bharat mein vanchit aatankiyon ke khilaf thos karvahi karni hogi?” (Questioned in Hindi; App. translation) India-Pakistan has agreed on ceasefire in DGMO level talks. Will this now open the way for dialogue at the political level? Is India preparing for a composite dialogue with Pakistan or does India stand on its stand that terrorism and dialogue cannot go together; Pakistan will have to take action against wanted terrorists in India. Aditya from CNN News 18 asks, "DGMO's of Indian Army and Pakistan Army have now announced ceasefire from tonight along the LOC. How significant is this statement as far as India Pakistan bilateral ties are concerned. Will New Delhi be forthcoming for dialogue with Islamabad on terrorism? Has there been a back-channel dialogue already underway?” Pradeep Kumar from Total TV News asks, "Bhaarat-Paakistaan ke DGMO leval ke beech hue samajhaute ke kya yeh kootaneetik maayane bhee nikaale jaen ki dono desh nikat bhavishy mein dvipaksheey baatacheet kar sakate hain. Doosara, aise sahamati ko paakistaan pahle bhee todata raha hai phir is par kitana bharosa kiya jae.?” (Questioned in Hindi; App. translation) Whether the agreement reached between India and Pakistan at DGMO level conveys diplomatic meaning that the two countries can have bilateral talks in the near future. Second, Pakistan has been breaking such agreement before, then how much trust should be given to it. Shrinjoy from Times Now asks, "In the statement by the Director General Military Operations and his Pakistani counterpart, there is a reference to addressing core issues. Assuming addressing cross-border terrorism is a core issue, does India expect anything positive? Even yesterday the Army Chief had spoken about continuing cross-border terrorism.” Shridhar from Asian Age asks, "Can the Indo-Pak ceasefire announcement on the LOC be seen as a start of a new Indo-Pak peace process and comprehensive talks on all issues?” Devi Roopa from Wire asks, "What prompted the hotline conversation between the DGMOs, which resulted in a Joint Statement to be issued by India and Pakistan?” Suhasini from Hindu asks, "Pakistan PM Imran Khan has said in Sri Lanka that the Kashmir issue must be resolved through dialogue. What is your reaction?” Madhurendra from News Nation asks, "Pakistan ke PM Imran Khan ki oor se shanti varta ki pehel par sarkar ka kya stand hai?” (Questioned in Hindi; App. translation) What is government’s stand on the peace initiative of Pakistan’s PM, Imran Khan?” Similar questions from Maha from CNN News 18, Shailendra from News 18, Rekha from the Week, Akhilesh Suman from RSTV, Narendranath Mishra from Navabharat Times.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: I see three clear themes in these questions. As regards the Joint statement of the DGMOs and related issues, I would refer you to the Ministry of Defence. On relations with Pakistan, as we have said earlier, India desires normal neighborly relations with Pakistan. We have always maintained that we are committed to addressing issues, if any, in a peaceful and bilateral manner. On key issues our position remains unchanged. I don't think I need to reiterate it.

Shri Pratik, US (DD): Sir, next question. Gautam Lahiri asks, "Following the virtual meeting with SAARC leaders, PM Modi also addressed Health officials of SAARC countries. Any plan to upgrade this meeting to Ministerial-level on cooperation on Covid pandemic? Second, while addressing SAARC Health officials, PM suggested three proposals, like special visa for doctors etc. Any forward movement on this proposal?”

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Gautamji, you're referring to the workshop on Covid-19 management experience, good practices and way forward which we had with ten neighboring countries on the 18th of February, which was also addressed by PM. PM made four key proposals. One suggesting a special Visa scheme for doctors and nurses, the other on the regional air ambulance agreement, then on creating a regional platform for data about the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines and creating a regional network for promoting technology-assisted epidemiology. What I can tell you is that these proposals were very well received by the participating countries and follow-up action is being taken in consultation with concerned Ministries.

Shri Pratik, US (DD): Sir, next question. Aditya are from CNN News 18 asks, "Financial action task force is having its plenary right now to decide fate of Pakistan, which is currently in the Grey List. Does India believe that Pakistan should be put in the Black List for violating all norms and commitments and funding and aiding terrorists on Pakistan soil?” Similar question from Maha from CNN News 18.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: You know that FATF has its own procedures to take decisions, and these decisions are communicated by the FATF on their official website after every FATF plenary meeting.

Shri Pratik, US (DD): Sir, next question. Sandeep from Tribune asks, "Can you please tell us about the status of the Colombo East Container Project and whether Defence Lines of Credit to Sri Lanka from both Pakistan and India is acceptable?”

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Sandeep, on the Colombo port, as I had mentioned earlier, our interest for participation in the Colombo Port is a long-standing one since most of the goods which are handled there are from India or to India. The current Sri Lankan government has expressed its preference to engage investors directly and I understand discussions are still underway on this.

Shri Pratik, US (DD): Sir, next question. Sandeep from Tribune asks, "When is the next trilateral between India, Iran and Afghanistan? Are US sanctions are stumbling block?”

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: I think you're referring to the Trilateral Working Group on the use of Chabahar Port which was held between India, Iran and Uzbekistan. So the first meeting of this group was held in December last year and we are looking to participate in the next meeting shortly. We will let you know.

Shri Pratik, US (DD): Sir, next set of questions. Aditya from CNN News 18 asks, "24 foreign envoys were in Jammu and Kashmir recently as part of the fourth group of foreign dignitaries visiting J&K after Article 370 abrogation. What does Indian government aim to achieve by this exercise and has the focus of the invite list been on OIC, EU, AU and P5?” Shailendra from News 18 asks, "haal hee mein raajadooton ka dal kashmeer gaya tha, kya is saal aur bhee aise vizit karaane kee yojana hai? (Questioned in Hindi; App. translation) Recently a team of ambassadors went to Kashmir. Are there plans to have more such visits this year?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: On this visit we had put out a detailed statement. You know that 24 envoys visited the Union Territory of J&K on the 17th and 18th of February and this group actually represented various geographical regions. You would also know that even before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in January and February 2020. We had groups of envoys visiting J&K. There were two such groups and the idea behind facilitating this visit was to enable Foreign Heads of Missions to get a better sense of the ground situation and the prevailing normalcy in the Union Territory. This is the context in which we have been organizing or facilitating the visit of these groups. When we saw that there has been more interest in the ongoing political and democratic process including the strengthening of grass-root politics in J&K, the present visit was facilitated. During this visit, the envoys have interacted with the cross-section of people including civil society, elected representatives and officials. The visit helped the envoys to witness first hand developments in the Union Territory, particularly with respect to restoration of grassroots democracy in the form of District Development Councils. Shailendra, coming to your question. I've given you the context in which such visits have been organized in the past. The context in which the present visit was organized. So whenever there is any such visit in the future, we will let you know.

Shri Pratik, US (DD): Sir, next question. Shailendra from News 18 asks, "Delhi mein anye deshon ke ambassadors ko vaccine offer kiya gaya tha. Kya kisi raajadoot ko Bhaarateey Vaccine dee gaee?” (Questioned in Hindi; App. translation)The vaccine was offered to ambassadors from other countries in Delhi. Was any Ambassador given an Indian vaccine?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Shailendra, mere paas jo jaanakaaree hai, ham log ne jitane bhee Diplomatic Corps ke eligible members hain aur unke families, unko india made vaccines offer ki hai. Sirf baakee deshon ke diplomats ko hi nahin, UN agencies aur inter-governmental organizations mein jo kaam kar rahe hain unko bhee offer ki gaee hai. Yeh jo drive hai diplomat ke vaccination kee yeh saare locations, jahaan wo based hain bhaarat mein, voh saare locations ko cover karege.
(Answered in Hindi; App. translation) Shailendra, the information that I have is that we have offered Indian Made Vaccines to all eligible members of the Diplomatic Corps and to their families. And not just to diplomats, but also to people working in the UN Agencies and inter-governmental organizations have also been offered. This drive of vaccination of diplomats will cover all locations where they are based.

Shri Pratik, US (DD): Sir, next question. Deepak Ranjan from PTI asks, "Bhaarat mein BRICS shikhar sammelan ka cheen dwara samarthan karne aur cheenee raashtrapati Xi Jinping ki sambhaavit Bharat yaatra ki khabaron par mantraalay kee kya pratikriya hai?” (Questioned in Hindi; App. translation) What is the Ministry's response to reports of China supporting the BRICS summit in India and a possible visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to India? Similar questions from Madhurendra from News Nation and Naredranath Mishra from Navbharat times.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Aap log jaanate hain ki BRICS mein shaamil deshon ke saath Bharat BRICS framework mein sahayog ko bahut mahatv deta hai aur yah saal jo hai hamaaree adhyakshata ka saal hai. BRICS ke tahat BRICS ka yah 15 vaan saal hoga aur BRICS @ 15 ke theme mein ham apanee adhyakshata mein is saal ko ham aage le jaenge. Aap logon ne dekha hoga kuchh din pahale videsh mantree jee ne BRICS kee website hai uska udghaatan kiya tha. Iss saal kee kaarya yojana ko lekar partner deshon ke saath charcha chal rahee hai aur jab bhee yah kaarya yojana final ho hee uska announcement jo hai BRICS website mein kiya jaega. Toh aap logon ko us samay jaanakaaree mil jaegee.
(Answered in Hindi; App. translation) You people know that India attaches great importance to cooperation in the BRICS framework with the countries involved in BRICS and this year is our year of presidency and this will be the 15th year of under the theme of BRICS @ 15. We will carry forward this year under our presidency. You must have seen that the BRICS website was inaugurated by the External Affairs Minister a few days ago. At the moment, discussions are ongoing with the partner countries about this year's action plan and whenever this action plan will be final, announcement of that will be done in the BRICS website. You will then have the information.

Shri Pratik, US (DD): Sir, next question. Suhasini from Hindu asks, "Has the government decided to lift restrictions on Chinese FDI into Indian companies that had been asked to take special clearance. If not, when is a decision expected?”

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Suhasini, investment related issues are dealt with by the DPIIT. So I would request you to check with them.

Shri Pratik, US (DD): Sir, next question. Suresh asks, "What's India's reaction on Nepal Supreme Court's decision to reinstate the lower house?”

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Suresh, we've seen the judgment of 23rd of February by the Supreme Court of Nepal. We've also been closely following political developments in Nepal over the last few months. As we stated earlier, we believe that these are internal matters for Nepal to decide as per its own democratic institutions and processes.

Shri Pratik, US (DD): Sir, next question. Madhurendra from News Nation asks," Bhagode Zakir Naik mamle mein koi update hai to batayen?” (Questioned in Hindi; App. translation) Is there any update in the fugitive Zakir Naik case?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Madhurendra ji, Zakir Nayak ke maamle mein January 2018 se ham isko baraabar Malaysian Government se follow kar rahe hain aur hum logon ne baar-baar unko yeh request jo hamari hai extradition ke liye hai usko hamane reiterate kiya hai unke saath. (Answered in Hindi; App. translation) Madhurendra Ji, in the case of Zakir Nayak, we have been following with the Malaysian Government since January 2018 and we have repeatedly reiterated our request for his extradition with them.

Shri Pratik, US (DD): Sir, next question. Ashok Sharma from AP asks, "Reports from Sri Lanka say that state-run Ceylon Electricity Board plans to set up Hybrid Renewable Energy Systems in three islands very close to India in the northern Peninsula. Some Chinese companies are bidding for these projects. Is India interested in funding these projects in Nainativu, Delft and Analativu islands?”

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: On these three projects we understand some views have been expressed in Sri Lanka. We are closely following the developments as of now.

Shri Pratik, US (DD): Sir, next question. Akhilesh Suman from Rajya Sabha TV asks, "Which countries and how much vaccines have we sent till now both on grant basis and on commercial basis? How many more countries have demanded for this so far?”

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Akhilesh ji, as I mentioned last time, we have been providing this information on our website. It is available there. It is constantly updated. As of now we have provided a total of 361.94 lakh doses to various countries. This includes 67.5 lakh doses supplied under grant assistance and 294.44 lakh doses under various commercial contracts. With regards to your other question, about other countries that we are likely to supply, I can tell you that we will continue to supply these vaccines in the coming weeks and months in a phased manner. Of course, while supplying these vaccines, it will be ensured that our domestic requirements of our national vaccination program, which is the largest vaccination drive in the world, the requirements of this program are kept in mind.

Shri Pratik, US (DD): Sir, next question. Maha from CNN News 18 asks, "Today, there's been a verdict on Nirav Modi's extradition case. Would like to know if there has been any progress on the extradition requests with regards to his uncle Mehul Choksi?”

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Maha, yes, the Westminster Magistrate’s Court in London has pronounced that Nirav Modi be extradited to stand trial in India. They have dismissed his mental health concerns and the judge has observed that Nirav Modi conspired to destroy evidence and intimidate witnesses. Since the Magistrate Court has recommended Nirav Modi's extradition to the UK Home Secretary, the Government of India would liaise with the UK authorities for his early extradition to India.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Any more questions Pratik?

Shri Pratik, US (DD): No Sir, no more questions.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson Thank you. So this concludes the weekly briefing.

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